Monday, March 16

Morocco Images III - Volubilis


Between the royal cities of Rabat and Fez there's a spot... A dig into the shadow of the ancient ways beneath Morocco's dirt. They've drilled sort of a manhole... Oops... person hole...  down into the historic foundation of this causeway nation... This bridge which untold millions have crossed between the European and African continents. Okay, historians make the past as unpredictable as the future. It's what they do. Still, here's a spot where Morocco's shoveling into all of our histories.

Always, click on any image to expand it.

Our Moroccan Expedition was gamely produced by Gib Armstrong who hauled us both ways
storing us neatly into the buses, planes, and hotels that make touring bearable.
Plate 11

Once upon a time the swath of North Africa framing the Mediterranean Sea was Rome's breadbasket. It was the richest verdant strip of land known to the history of their moment. From the prosperous town of Volubilis in what's now Morocco to the fat and burgeoning Egyptian capitol of Memphis at the mouth of the Nile basin, African farmers fed the vast empire's belly with fruit, olives, wine, meat, and grain in astonishing quantities. They also bred the "wild" animals for Roman colosseums throughout the empire. It was a never-again rivaled regional miracle of cultural, military, political, and agrarian engineering.

Arriving around 45 AD here between the Khoumane river and a shallow verdant slope of Zerhoun mountain, Rome's legions muscled into a sleepy Berber, Mauretanian, Amazigh, and Carthaginian village. They stayed in this place, renamed Volubilis, until either those legions lost their muscle or feisty locals regrew their own in the year 285.

Detail of Volubilis' Trimuphal Arch
Plate 12
Dark ages crushed the town that once housed 20,000 prosperous Romans. They stripped its marble-coated buildings, even crushing the underground piping that carried water to structures, much of it heated to generate radiant warmth beneath floors in cold nights and wintery days. Gone too was the system of sewers that drained the city's refuse. Over the centuries vandals, clerics, and politicians quarried the structures of shiny skins, stones, and bricks to make their own public buildings, mosques and churches, leaving naked bones like that detail above of Volubilis' once grand arch.

Plate 13

But still locals lived in the ancient homes and tread the old village stairs.

Plate 14


For centuries the new Christian religion and later the Muslims worshiped within Roman public buildings they converted into churches then mosques.

Frank & Barbara Pinto pose midst the vast public building
its columns now supporting nests of great white cranes.
Plate 15

Plate 16

The might of Rome still whispers... no shouts is a better word... Yeah, Roman architects and builders routinely created massive works without power tools, elevators, or bulldozer brawn. 

They used a lot of labor, but remember this city had only 20,000 people (including slaves), about the population of  Columbia in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania --  perhaps even fewer . And most of those were there to engage in or support farming. How'd they do that? How did they cloth, feed, house, and support such a large percentage of craftspeople who were not contributing to the productivity which brought wealth from trade to this village?

The mosaic floors of the Volubilis mansions and public buildings showed a rich depth of
highly skilled artisans were available to feed the town's ambitions.
Plate 17
A microcosm of Roman glory, this tiny place off on the western edge of Rome's African empire stood until a massive 1750s Portuguese earthquake some 500 miles to its north jolted everything down. It leveled the last, mostly abandoned, buildings and left it forgotten until the 1920s when French archeologists began its rediscovery. 

Plate 18

The Kingdom of Morocco continues to piece the ancient puzzle-place back together. They're repiling the rocks to remind visitors of ghosts lurking in memory's mists. People who managed to somehow stave off the darkness from 45 till 285AD. Dreamers who reached from this tiny place to the spectacular metropolises of the Nile to create a sparkling necklace of farming wealth that dangled about Rome's southern neck. 

Plate 19

What's left of the children's screams, barking dogs, hard men in sun-bleached tunics? Where's the stench of horse and donkey traffic lugging rackety carts along the arrow-straight Decumanus Maximus the great avenue connecting the city's main gate with and through this once magnificent arch? Squint into the dazzling African sun and that rock pile becomes different... an abstract... a painter's feeling of...

The writer J.P. Hartley said, "The past is a foreign country, they do things differently there."

And there's that person-hole through the arch's center back to where ancients might still do things differently. 


Coming Next: Moroccan Images IV - The mysterious royal city of Fez.







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